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Three No-hype Facts About President Obama's New Carbon Rule

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Yesterday, the Obama administration released a draft proposal to -- for the first time -- place limits that would further reduce carbon pollution from electricity-generating power plants.

This is a good thing and long overdue. We at CREDO will support the proposal while pushing for it to be greatly strengthened, and stand against the cynical forces in the fossil fuel industry who would have us do nothing in the face of the global warming crisis.

Already there is a lot of hyperbole from all sides, and this will only continue in the weeks and months to come. If you would like to know a bit more about the underlying context, we invite you to keep reading and consider these three key points.

  1. Limiting carbon pollution is a no-brainer, and long overdue. In some ways, it was literally inevitable after the EPA recognized the science that carbon emissions are a pollutant, and even the Roberts Supreme Court (in 2007!) ruled that EPA has both the right and the obligation to address carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Until and unless this rule goes into effect, there are NO limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can spew into the atmosphere, driving climate change. So asking states to come up with plans to lower that pollution is a good thing.
  2. The cynical, Chicken Little crowd is lying to you -- and their lies are wrong every time. The doom-and-gloom crowd that represents polluters -- like the Chamber of Commerce and the coal industry associations -- are already out with prepackaged studies proclaiming dire-sounding effects on the struggling economy. They have been wrong every time for decades about each successive EPA effort to protect our health and safety, and they are wrong about this one. The simple truth is that the costs of inaction to our health, property and safety are far, far, far greater than any modest cost of this modest rule. In fact, CREDO thinks the economy will actually benefit from the rules as the real tangible health benefits vastly outweigh the rather modest costs to utilities.
  3. This rule is a smaller step than it sounds. And much smaller than it should be. It's important not to overstate the positive impacts of the rules. Far from being the single biggest thing ever done on global warming, as some are trumpeting, these rules are so modest in their scope that they are smaller than the emissions reductions that will be achieved by the car and truck fuel efficiency rules already in effect. Quite a bit smaller.

    The numbers behind the reductions sound big -- 25 percent less carbon pollution from electricity generation by 2020 than the base year of 2005. But 2005 was a long time ago, when the economy and pollution levels were bigger. Almost two-thirds of that 25 percent reduction had already been achieved by 2012, with the EPA doing absolutely nothing on carbon pollution! The EPA expects to take input and work on the proposal for at least another year, and then, if released, states have two years to propose plans. So if everything goes perfectly -- and it will not -- that leaves only three years for the rule to have an effect by 2020. Thus, the trick is to bake in all the progress already made from every coal plant already shut down by activism, switched to natural gas, replaced by solar, wind, or reduced demand from energy efficiency. Most of the 25 percent reduction has nothing to do with what the EPA is proposing. The reduction is still good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. If we're going to avoid the oncoming global warming apocalypse, we have much more to do.

Yesterday's announcement comes down to this: We have a massive battle on our hands to make even modest changes. Coal state senators will attack the plan as being unreasonable and anti-jobs, the Koch brothers will unleash massive ad barrages with false information to keep the status quo, and Fox News will find industry-paid hacks to say it is all unnecessary. And just as in the fight for health care reform, we can expect Republican governors to refuse to participate at all, creating a protracted rules battle with the EPA, and dooming many states to more years of worsening air quality and higher health care costs.

Submit a comment now to urge the EPA to ignore the naysaying polluters, and do even more to cut carbon pollution.

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